Asking for referrals might be hard, but it pays off big!

Ask most anybody for the secret to how to get referrals, and they’ll probably tell you the first step is to simply ask. That might be true, but it’s far easier said than done. Whether you’re a sales newbie or a veteran rainmaker, asking is hard. Apparently, it’s even harder for many men.

Two guys in their early 50s recently told me they felt uncomfortable asking. I mentioned that most everyone has call reluctance when asking for referrals, because referrals are so very personal. We put our reputations on the line when we ask. We’re vulnerable. We’re afraid of the “no.” However, their reason surprised me. I’d never heard it before. They said that guys are supposed to be confident and have the answers. Therefore, it’s even more intimidating for them to ask for referrals.

Man or woman, young or old, you likely have call reluctance when asking for referrals. It happens to all of us—at least until we learn how to get referrals and make referral selling our go-to prospecting strategy.

Why Your Team Isn’t Asking

The only way to get past referral call reluctance is practice—lots and lots of practice. But reps won’t practice unless it’s part of their job description. With that in mind, here are five reasons your reps aren’t asking for referrals. Unless each one is addressed and implemented, referral selling will never become your #1 prospecting method.

  1. Failure to prioritize.

Note that the word “priority” is singular. When you commit to referral selling, it becomes the way you work. Sales execs tell me the reason they don’t ask for referrals is that they have other priorities. Really? What is more important than generating qualified leads, getting every meeting with decision-makers, closing deals, and generating revenue?

The truth is that we waste hours a day on activities that don’t deliver a return on investment. According to a recent InsideSales survey, reps only spend about 35.2 percent of their time actually prospecting, and if they’re cold calling, they’re wasting more time than that.

Makes referrals your priority. That’s how to get referrals.

  1. Lack of metrics.

Referral selling seems like a great prospecting approach, but many companies either believe that referrals are tough to measure, or they’ve never added referral metrics to their sales goals. Measure essential referral activities—e.g., the number of referral introductions requested, referrals received, and meetings conducted. Determine your referral revenue goals—such as percent revenue increase, number of new clients, or number of new client projects. Set referral goals for your company and for each member of the sales team.

  1. No referral sales process.

Asking for referrals is a proactive strategy, to be nurtured and integrated into your sales process, not just left to word of mouth. After all, how much thought do you give to referring great contacts in your network unless someone or something brings it to your attention?

Sales leaders tell their reps to go for ask referrals, and they wonder why no one is asking. It’s the misguided belief that “telling” translates to “doing.” A client asked me to figure out why their reps weren’t asking for referrals. Everyone had a reminder on their computer to ask. They monitored all calls, and no one was asking. The answer was obvious. “Telling” doesn’t work. If it’s not part of the sales process, digital reminders aren’t going to help.

  1. Lack of skills.

Most sellers don’t ask for referral introductions with confidence. They’ve never learned a reliable process, so they say, “By the way, if you know anyone who could benefit from my services, please pass my name along.” You may check “ask for referrals” off your to-do list this way. But even the most well-intentioned referral sources will think no more of this generic inquiry once they are distracted by their own hectic schedules.

The secret to how to get referrals isn’t just asking. It’s asking the right way. That means describing your ideal client and explaining the business reason for the referral.

  1. Personal discomfort.

From the newbie, to the seasoned sales pro, to the hard-driving sales executive, asking for referral introductions feels uncomfortable for most people. We worry that doing so could imply our businesses are struggling (it doesn’t), that asking for a referral is like asking for a favor (it’s not), and that asking already-busy people to help us might mean risking those relationships (it won’t). Worst of all, they might say no. (That one is true).

Unlike other business-development strategies, our reputations are clearly on the line when we ask for referrals.

Excuses like “I forget” or “It’s not the right time” are other reasons people give for not asking—and these are red flags that indicate the downward spiral of never asking. We can always “forget” or justify that it’s not the right time to approach someone, when we’re really just uncomfortable. The easy part of shifting to referral selling is learning the skills, establishing metrics, and integrating it into your sales process and goal setting. For many people, the more difficult part is asking with confidence.

Just remember, you give referrals all the time—and enjoy it. Why wouldn’t others do the same for you? They will! But you must learn how to ask.

How to Get Referrals—and When

When should I ask for referrals? A common question from salespeople, but more of a concern that reflects the discomfort many of us feel when asking for referrals. We don’t want to appear pushy, or salesy, or arrogant, so we push it further and further out in our sales process. That’s certainly not how to get referrals.

Many think we should wait until we sign a deal, others think when the client implements, and yet others feel they can’t ask until the client sees an ROI on their solution. We wait and we wait, often until the relationship with the initial buyer is so far removed that we never ask.

What does that scenario tell us?  We should never lose touch with our buyers and all of the other individuals we touch during both the sales and implementation process. And we should be asking every single one of them for referrals—not when the deal is done but as soon as we’ve provided them with something valuable, whether that’s expertise, information, or just a good experience. How do you know when you’ve provided value? A good indication is when they say “thank you.” That’s your in. Make sure your team isn’t afraid to take it.

Want to learn more about referral selling? Check out my acclaimed referral sales system.